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Can’t go paperless here: demand for soft toilet paper getting hard to meet

April 22, 2010
Courtesy of the American Chemical Society
and World Science staff

The rise of elec­tron­ic com­mu­nica­t­ions is in­di­rectly mak­ing it ev­er harder for ma­n­u­fac­tur­ers to sat­is­fy Amer­i­cans’ pref­er­ence for soft toi­let pa­per, says a new re­port. But the pa­per pur­vey­ors are hop­ing the prob­lem can be solved through clev­er chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing.

The de­vel­op­ments are de­tailed in an ar­ti­cle in the April 19 is­sue of Chem­i­cal and En­gi­neer­ing News, an Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal So­ci­e­ty pub­lica­t­ion.

Low-priced soft toi­let pa­per comes largely from re­cy­cled of­fice pa­per, but the rise of e-mail and pa­perless com­mu­nica­t­ions means used white of­fice pa­per “is get­ting in­creas­ingly hard to find,” wrote Mel­o­dy Voith, sen­ior ed­i­tor of the pub­lica­t­ion, in the ar­ti­cle.

The short­age of used of­fice pa­per as well as news­print is af­fect­ing oth­er sec­tors of the pa­per mar­ket as well, the ar­ti­cle adds. A short­age of re­cy­cled pa­per can be made up with pa­per from freshly chopped trees, but this is cost­li­er and tougher on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Pa­per from “vir­gin” trees is the high­est qual­ity and con­tains long fi­bers from the cell walls of plants. As pa­per is re­cy­cled one or more times, the fi­bers are pro­gres­sively bro­ken down and weak­ened, and the pa­per qual­ity di­min­ishes.

The recycled of­fice paper used to make toil­et paper it­self contains in­creasing am­ounts of re­cycled paper, Voith ex­plains. That de­creases its use­fulness for mak­ing high-qual­ity per­son­al paper soft enough to sat­isfy picky con­sum­ers. 

“To keep costs down, pa­permakers are us­ing low­er and low­er grades of re­cy­cled fi­ber and at­tempt­ing to make high­er grades of pa­per with it,” Voith wrote. “The trend has cre­at­ed a grow­ing niche for func­tion­al chem­i­cals that im­prove as­pects of pa­per qual­ity in­clud­ing strength, wa­ter re­pel­len­cy or ab­sorb­en­cy, soft­ness, smooth­ness, col­or and bright­ness, and print­abil­ity.”


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The rise of electronic communications is indirectly making it ever harder for manufacturers to satisfy Americans’ preference for soft toilet paper, said a new report. But the paper purveyors are hoping the problem can be solved through clever chemical engineering. The developments are detailed in an article in the April 19 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, an American Chemical Society publication. Low-priced soft toilet paper comes largely from recycled office paper, but the rise of e-mail and paperless communications means used white office paper “is getting increasingly hard to find,” wrote Melody Voith, senior editor of the publication, in the article. The shortage of used office paper as well as newsprint is affecting other sectors of the paper market as well, the article adds. A shortage of recycled paper can be made up with paper from freshly chopped trees, but this is costlier and tougher on the environment. Paper from “virgin” trees is the highest quality and contains long fibers from the cell walls of plants. As paper is recycled one or more times, the fibers are progressively broken down into smaller bits, and the paper quality diminishes. “To keep costs down, papermakers are using lower and lower grades of recycled fiber and attempting to make higher grades of paper with it,” Voith wrote. “The trend has created a growing niche for functional chemicals that improve aspects of paper quality including strength, water repellency or absorbency, softness, smoothness, color and brightness, and printability.”